As the battle to maximize efficiencies continues, IT tools are riding to the rescue

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

“Colleges and universities are always looking for ways to be more efficient, and there are lots of strategies they’re employing,” says Bill Dillon, executive vice president of the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO). The membership organization, based in Washington, D.C., represents more than 2,500 colleges, universities and higher-education service providers. “The challenges that most public colleges and universities face is that for most of their existence, they were supported through state funding,” he continues. “But public schools have faced cuts in their overall budget of 15 to 20 percent or more in a single year, and it could be several years in a row of these kinds of cuts.”

This “dramatic downturn” in state funding has made tuition one of the only areas affected institutions can turn to as a way of bringing in more money, Dillon explains. The result? Growing student protests and a proposal from President Obama that, if passed, would link federal funding to how well a university can stabilize its tuition.

This has compelled many institutions to look at cost-controlling measures. For example, a recent article by Rowan A. Miranda, associate vice president for finance at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, explored how that university is transforming its back-office operations. Strategies under consideration include consolidating e-mail systems and desktop support, and eliminating redundant storage systems and reporting applications.

Like the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, many colleges and universities are turning to technology to operate more cost-effectively. For example, a 2011 survey entitled “Shared Services Survey Analysis,” conducted by NACUBO, indicated that 88 percent of the respondents were using at least one web-based commercial resource, says Dillon.

These encompassed applications like student and faculty e-mail, payroll processing, e-procurement, e-billing for accounts receivable, and more. Among other “self-reported” web-based resources, document imaging, facilities work-order processing and scheduling, and HR application processes were listed.

Numerous colleges and universities are already achieving their cost-control objectives by digitizing paper documents and automating associated business processes using enterprise content management (ECM) software from Laserfiche, says Linda Ding, education program strategist for Laserfiche. A short list of Laserfiche users includes the University of Utah, Texas A & M Health Science Center, Dalhousie University Medical School, and USC’s Office of the Provost.

“Increasing operational efficiencies drives down costs,” says Ding. “I think we’re providing a great service for colleges and universities so they can provide great services for their students and faculty.”

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